Haiti’s slave revolt and its role in helping US become world power

Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the U.S. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Haiti’s long rebuilding process following the Jan. 12 earthquake is just beginning, as Catholic News Service reported June 8 after an interview with the country’s ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph.

The reconstruction effort received a boost June 17 when the 26-member Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission — co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton, U.N. special envoy for Haiti, and Haiti Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive — met for the first time to approve several projects.

Among them was a plan to build 10 storm shelters in the quake-ravaged communities of Leogane and Jacmel, a loan program for small businesses and $45 million for the Haitian government to cover some of its $175 million budget shortfall.

Through Clinton’s role, the U.S. continues its long involvement in Haiti’s history. Since Haiti evicted the French in 1803 and revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared the country’s independence Jan. 1, 1804, to conclude the world’s only successful slave revolt, Haitian and American history have been intertwined.

Whenever he can — as he did during the CNS interview — Joseph likes to point out that it was his countrymen’s accomplishment that set the U.S. on the road to becoming the world’s leading economic power.

How?

By allowing President Thomas Jefferson to complete the Louisiana Purchase, the largest real estate deal in U.S. history at 5 million acres.

The sale was finalized April 30, 1803, as French forces were succumbing to yellow fever and being overrun by fierce resistance from freed slaves. Napoleon Bonaparte, who had engineered a coup to overthrow the revolutionary government in France, agreed to the $15 million deal ($11.25 million in cash and $3.75 million in debt cancellation) to help refill his country’s coffers. At $3 per acre, the acquisition doubled the size of the U.S. by adding an area that encompassed all or part of 13 states.

Bonaparte said the purchase immediately elevated the young U.S. to the status of world power.

The back story finds that France itself was undergoing its own revolution as the Haitian slaves rose up against their French masters. The Haitian revolution that started in 1791 largely paralleled the French Revolution (1789-99). During that period the French legislature freed slaves throughout the French empire, much to the dislike of some elite.

After gaining their freedom, the Haitian slaves on the island of Saint Domingue (the French name for the country) wanted their independence and fought the French (and the Spanish and English as well) to gain it.

As Joseph says, if it hadn’t been for the French being preoccupied with its own battle in Haiti/Saint Domingue, it’s possible Napoleon might not have sold France’s land holdings in North America to the U.S.

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